BRUSSELS (AP) — Two environmental groups say European Union nations continue to overfish their Atlantic waters despite commitments to fish sustainably and stay within safe scientific limits.
Studies from the two obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press ahead of their release show that almost two out of three limits for catches in the waters off north-western Europe are still set above scientific advice.
The Pew Charitable Trusts said that in many cases the EU's Atlantic nations set fishing limits "contrary" to the recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and continue to overfish for such dinnertime favorites like North Sea cod and hake.
In its report Turning the Tide, Pew said catches of North Sea cod, an iconic species in Europe, has slumped from 300,000 tons in the early 1970s to less than 30,000 tons recently.
Meanwhile, the New Economics Foundation found that cod was now fished beyond scientific advice by 38 percent, blue whiting by 51 percent and pollack by an astounding 231 percent.
Fish stocks in EU waters have decreased dramatically over the past half century leaving many fish close to commercial extinction. Even though the decline of some stocks has bottomed out, most remain in a parlous state and exist at only a small part of their economic potential.
It forced the EU into a fundamental rethink of its fishing practices two years ago — conservation issues are now a key consideration. The ultimate goal of the reform is to have fish caught with a maximum sustainable yield which would assure both healthy stocks and viable fishing communities.
Pew's senior adviser Markus Knigge said the legislation is in place that provides "a very clear benchmark that overfishing should end by 2015."
He said the only way scientific advice can be disregarded beyond this year is if there was a serious threat to the "social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets involved". And that can only last until 2020, he added.
Both Pew and NEF say that in an overwhelming amount of cases, there is no reason for the advice to be disregarded.
The EU's executive Commission said in reaction that it seeks to "put the EU firmly on the path of a sustainable fishing sector and fishing communities." It added that an EU decision last December already allowed for "36 fisheries instead of 27 that should be at sustainable level in the Atlantic."
Pew, which is an official stakeholder in the EU fisheries consultations, could not immediately place the Commission's statistics.
However, it said that in northwestern Atlantic waters, including the North, Irish and Celtic Seas and the vast waters west off Scotland and Ireland, only 37 of 97 fisheries quota met scientific advice, with 60 exceeding them.
"There is a risk that the ambition of the fisheries reform has not been matched by the implementation," Knigge said.
Traditionally, the fishing quotas have been divvied up among member states in a year-end meeting where the late-night bartering all-too-often led to traditionally big fishing nations like Britain, Spain and France getting shares which were bound to contribute to overfishing in the Atlantic.
Delaying a return to healthy stocks by continued heavy fishing on struggling species in fragile grounds also has economic costs, according to NEF's Griffin Carpenter.
"The sooner you are at maximum sustainable yield, the larger the economic benefits that will accrue," Carpenter said.
The NEF said proper management of EU Atlantic waters would create an extra 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in annual revenue.
"Get there as fast as possible to maximize net benefits," said Carpenter.
Follow Raf Casert at http://twitter.com/rcasert